Curbside Capsule: 1988-94 Honda Concerto – Quietly Humming In The Corner

Imagine a Honda showroom where Preludes and Integras were sold alongside one another, and where there existed an additional Honda between the Civic and the Accord. Also imagine this showroom lineup existed in a country where Honda sold in smaller volumes than Mitsubishi. Welcome to Australia, once home to the tweener hatchback known as the Concerto.

Lasting a single generation, the Civic-derived Concerto hatchback (and in some markets, sedan) replaced the Ballade sedan and Quint hatchback. The former is better known to Brits first as the Triumph Acclaim and then as the Rover 200, while the latter also has a British Leyland/Austin-Rover connection as it was sold in Australia as the Rover Quintet.

The existence of so many similarly-sized Hondas made more sense in their home market. In Japan, Honda sold cars through different networks named Clio, Verno and Primo. Quint, Prelude, Integra and Ballade were sold through Verno dealerships; Civics through Primo dealers; and the Concerto through Clio showrooms. The Verno Hondas were generally sportier offerings, while the Concerto shared Clio showroom space with the upscale Honda Legend.

Although the Concerto was 7.3 inches longer than the fourth-generation Civic sedan, Rover chose to use it as a base for its second-generation Rover 200 as well as the 400. Both featured more elegant styling and warmer interiors than the Concerto although most of the powertrain lineup was shared with the Honda.

Rover also used the platform as a base for the shapely 200 coupe…

…and the extremely handsome 400 Tourer.

The Concerto was built alongside the 200 and 400 in Rover’s Longbridge plant and UK-built Concertos were exported to continental Europe. The main difference between the UK and Japanese-built Concertos was the former’s use of a MacPherson strut front suspension instead of Honda’s trademark double wishbones, as employed on the latter. JDM Concertos also came with optional four-wheel-drive, the same system used in the Civic Shuttle.

(clockwise from top left) European-market Honda Civic hatch, Isuzu Gemini, Canadian Acura EL, Honda Domani

The following 200 and 400 would be based on the Concerto’s replacement, the Domani. This was better known to Canadians as the Acura 1.7EL; it was also rebadged in Japan as the Isuzu Gemini. Interestingly, the UK sold the Domani hatch and wagon under the Civic nameplate due to the lack of a five-door Civic hatch or wagon and that market’s general aversion to compact sedans.

So, it wasn’t quite as confusing as it looked to offer the Concerto in between the Civic and Accord as the Civic didn’t offer a five-door hatch. And to reduce confusion in Australia, the second-generation Integra was sold only as a three-door hatch; the first-generation’s five-door had been sold only in Rover showrooms as the 416i in the absence of the real UK-market Rover 400. On that note, the Integra’s strongest market was likely the North American one as the first-generation sold poorly in Europe and the line was discontinued, effectively replaced by the starchier Concerto.

It’s funny how the Concerto seems like a forgotten JDM Honda like the Torneo or the Rafaga, when in actuality it was sold in numerous markets and spawned a range of popular Rovers. Maybe it should have simply been sold as the Civic in export markets and banked on the popularity of that much older, more established nameplate. It could have also filled out the Civic lineup in North America, although that market’s preference towards sedans might have spelled doom for the Concerto.

The Concerto was one of Honda’s earlier attempts at tailoring a model for the European market and although it was a fairly unexceptional seller there, it led to future models like the Ascot Innova (sold as the Accord in Europe) and the Accord Euro (Acura TSX). While the Concerto was never very popular, it signalled the start of a stronger commitment by Honda to the European market.

Related Reading:

Curbside Classic: 1987 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon (Shuttle) – The Automotive Swiss Army Knife

Curbside Classic: 1991 Honda Civic Hatchback – Citizen Of The World

Curbside Classic: 1992 Rover 214GSi – Thanks To Honda, Rover Finally Finds True Success

Carshow Classic: 1989 Rover 216 EFi Vanden Plas Automatic – Taking A Step Upmarket